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TribWeek: In Case You Missed It

Galbraith on wood chips and green energy, Aguilar on why conservatives might get the appeal of medical marijuana, Philpott on an effort to uncloak the hidden costs of government, Ramshaw and Galewitz of Kaiser Health News on federal plans to send less money to Texas for Medicaid, Aaronson visualizes who's currently covered by Medicaid and how the billions are spent, E. Smith's interview on higher ed and the "speaker drama" with Dan Branch, Hamilton on the costs of a losing football season, Grissom on Hispanic farmers' reaction to a federal settlement in a widespread discrimination case, Hu on what's ahead for Democratic legislators after an electoral drubbing, Chang on the rise of hepatitis B among Asian-Americans and M. Smith on the cuts likely for Texas classrooms in the wake of a record budget shortfall: The best of our best from Dec. 6 to 10, 2010.

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East Texas has none of the wind-power potential of West Texas. But it does have plenty of pine trees. And so, 40 miles apart, two first-of-their-kind power plants are going up near Lufkin and Nacogdoches. They will burn the woody debris to make steam, and that steam will turn generators to make electricity. But environmentalists, pulp mills and locals have concerns about the plants — which could also take an economic hit, because they are coming online during a slump in energy prices.

Backers of medical marijuana laws are holding fast to hopes that the specter of an ever-encroaching government will resonate with the most energized wing of the Republican Party in the upcoming legislative session.

Republican leaders in the Texas Legislature are insisting that it will be a no-new-taxes session. In response, one Democratic lawmaker is pushing to expand the definition of the word "taxes" to include fees.

Already facing a record budget shortfall, Texas has received more bad news: The portion of state Medicaid costs paid by the federal government is about to drop. Texas’ Federal Medical Assistance Percentage, a mathematical formula linked to a state's per-capita personal income, will fall more than 2 percentage points in late 2011, equivalent to a $1.2 billion hit. Only two states — Louisiana and North Dakota — will face a bigger percentage drop. And that’s after federal stimulus funds that have been artificially enhancing this match dry up in the spring, another blow to cash-strapped state Medicaid programs in Texas and across the nation.

It's Texas Medicaid's time in the limelight: Federal health care reform calls for expanding it, some Republicans are angling to bag it altogether and lawmakers are gearing up for a tense debate over broadening the reach of cost-cutting managed care plans. Often lost in these conversations are the people Medicaid serves and the money Texas pays to cover them. Our interactive allows you to visualize the 3 million Texans covered and the roughly $6 billion that the state spends.

For the 18th event in our TribLive series, we interviewed Dan Branch, the Dallas Republican who chairs the House Higher Education Committee about the speaker's race, how the shortfall runs smack into the ambitious plans of universities and why tying funding to outcomes is the best accountability that tax dollars can buy.

Over the last 12 years, the University of Texas has increased its merchandising royalties from $600,000 to, most recently, a one-year haul of more than $10.1 million. Not coincidentally, during that period the Longhorns excelled on the football field. This year, however, saw the team’s first losing season since 1997, ending without a bowl game. After enjoying the financial benefits of prolonged success, what will be the cost of failure? And how will it impact UT’s $3 billion capital campaign?

A decade after Hispanic farmers in Texas and other states sued the USDA, alleging discrimination in the awarding of loans and other federal benefits to minorities, the government has tendered a settlement offer. The plaintiffs think it's laughable.

Six weeks after the drubbing their party took at the hands of voters, surviving Texas House Democrats find themselves at a crossroads — on style and substance, politics and policy. With massive budget cuts looming, will they effectively sit out the session and force Republicans in the majority to have all the blood on their hands? Will they participate just enough to soften the blow in the areas they care about the most: education and health care? Can they hold together a solid 51-vote bloc on key legislation? Where exactly should they go from here? And who will lead them?

One in 10 Asian-Americans has hepatitis B, a rate that is 20 times higher than the rest of the population — and is surely pronounced in Houston, which has the fourth-largest Asian population of any U.S. metropolitan area. But state public health officials struggle to get funding for vaccinations and outreach.

One in 10 Asian-Americans has hepatitis B, a rate that is 20 times higher than the rest of the population — and is surely pronounced in Houston, which has the fourth-largest Asian population of any U.S. metropolitan area. But state public health officials struggle to get funding for vaccinations and outreach.

The budget shortfall — estimated to be as much as $28 billion — will require the Legislature to take a paring knife and possibly a machete to government agencies and programs. The largest single consumer of state dollars is public education, so it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which funding for teacher salaries, curricular materials and the like isn’t on the chopping block, especially if lawmakers want to make good on their promises of no new taxes. But where is that money going to come from?

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